Friday, October 29, 2010

Ballot initiative has Daily Tribune editors scratching their heads, too

Today's edition of The Daily Tribune includes an editorial on Ferndale's ballot initiative titled, No reason to give city manager authority over four officials.

In it, they write,
It's unwieldy, we suppose, around budget time. It could be unwieldy in contract negotiations. But the city has done quite well under the 83-year-old setup. The city has done no worse and perhaps a little better fiscally than some of its neighbors, including the last calamitous couple of years.
In a video taped forum organized by Citizens for a Fair Ferndale, the most obvious conclusion is there are no obvious (or compelling) reasons to pass the proposal.  To be fair, there's no obvious or compelling reasons to keep it, either.

Except prudence.

Supporters of the charter amendment (which will give the city manager authority over the clerk, fire, and police departments) admit there are no certain dollars to be saved.  They admit the new arrangement won't necessarily save time.  They admit they can't quantify the meaning of "efficient."  Their strongest point is Ferndale's organization is unique among Michigan municipalities, and so we should adopt a everyone else's model theirs is a "best practice" and ours is "quirky."
(Oh, and it has something to do with the investigation between the police and county prosecutor, but it's a secret.)
How much money would you pay for a used car without any verifiable benefits over your existing car?  How much would you pay for a car that isn't newer than you have already, isn't more fuel efficient than you have already, isn't faster, isn't roomier, isn't more entertaining, isn't more comfortable, and doesn't even smell nicer than the car you already have?

I wouldn't buy it either.

Based on what we've been told so far, I'll stick with both the car and the charter I have today.  Vote no.

Friday, October 22, 2010

If you're scratching your head on Ferndale's charter amendment, the answer should be, "No."

On June 14, 2010, Ferndale's city council passed ordinance #1094 which transfers supervisory responsibilities of the city clerk, police, and fire departments to the city manager.  Basically, the city's charter is amended to read:
The Division of Law and Records and Division of Safety set forth in Chapter III, Section 11 of the Ferndale Charter, shall be under the supervision, direction and control of the City Manager.
In folks-like-us terms; the city clerk, fire chief, and police chief now report to the city manager.

A petition signed by 400 registered voters suspended the ordinance, and on July 26, council voted to repeal the ordinance and put the issue on November 2nd's ballot.

There were three basic reasons residents signed the petition.  

First, some like Ferndale's structure exactly the way the charter proscribes it, feeling the chiefs and clerk are more accountable to citizens if they work for council, whose members are directly accountable to voters than for the city manager who is not accountable to voters.

Second, others feel they'd already vetoed this idea the last time the charter was revised and the new arrangement was included.

Lastly, most signers objected to how council went about making the change.  So important a topic as amending a city's charter is, voters felt the issue deserved some special explanation or even a special meeting dedicated to the topic.  At such a meeting council could have provided specific benefits to the new arrangement, allayed voter anxieties about the clerk and chief's apparent demotions, provide examples on how the new arrangement will benefit citizens, and provide the dollar and time savings the budget and staff should expect to see.

Over four months later, council has yet to elaborate on the definition of "efficient" (in time and money--the best measurement of "efficiency") or explain why "being like other cities" is OK for some things and not others.

In simple terms, the ballot measure could ask, "Should the city create a layer of bureaucracy between public safety and city council?  Given the amount of justification provided so far, the answer is no.

Or how about, "Should the city manager be given disciplinary powers over the fire chief, police chief, and city clerk?"  Again, without justification as to why council-appointees should be castigated by anyone other than city council or citizens, the answer is no.

If after everything that's been said by council leaves you at all uncertain, the answer is still no.  City charters, like constitutions, should not be amended or revised without clear understanding of the precise limits being expanded, created, or delegated.  Nor should charters be amended for reasons that aren't definable.

Some people go to a restaurant planning to tip 20% then work their way down depending on the quality of service.  Others start at 0% and work their way up.  Ballots should be approved using the second approach--don't change what's already in-place without a clear and precise definition of the benefits.  If the argument given is efficiency, then clear and precise is defined as dollars and hours.

Certainly, if council can make its case, and deliver to the Financial Planning Committee a commitment that this change will save $447,930 annually, then a yes vote may make sense.

But unless proofs are given and can withstand scrutiny, voters should say, "No."  Voting "No" will give council more time to consider if there are any time or dollar savings, time to survey other cities to see how they measure "efficiency," and provide an opportunity to hold a public hearing to share all their findings.

After four months, there's no rush, no imperative, no savings, no staff reductions, and no service improvements.  And until proven otherwise, on November 2nd there should be no changes to the charter.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Round #2 :Federal court upholds Obamacare

"In a 20-page decision, U.S. District Judge George Steeh refused to issue an injunction to halt preparations for putting federal health reforms into full effect in 2014, a law known as the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in March. Steeh also dismissed the major points of the suit — requiring Americans to buy health insurance and penalizing those who don’t starting in 2014."
Before applauding or berating the opinion, I thought I'd read it first.

I need to confess I haven't read the entire order, but the plaintiffs seemed to clearly miss establishing their standing.  The fact they may have to arrange their financial affairs differently three years from now doesn't excite me either, but I understand where they're coming from.  I'm glad they're planning ahead.  More of us should follow their example.

But it made me wonder: regardless whether Obamacare exceeds constitutional authority, by passing laws that go into affect in the future it is difficult to impede their enactment since until they hurt someone no one has standing to bring a case against the law.

Let me put that in simpler terms for recent college graduates--you're not hurt until you're hurt.

In the court's opinion, if your child is tied to railroad tracks they don't have standing to stop the train.

I think this is brilliant.  Congress should pass all unpopular and potentially unconstitutional laws this way.  No one can stop their passing or implementation because until folks have been victimized there are no victims, no plaintiffs, and no one "with standing." 

Of course, the judge's reasoning would also eliminate criminal conspiracy--since no one was harmed.  It may also prohibit the apprehension of terrorists since until the plane blows up, no one is actually hurt.

As long as the missile is climbing or hasn't entered US airspace there's no eminent threat.

I know, I know.  The judge's order blushed that "standing" is influenced by the immediacy of the threat.  But immediacy is both ambiguous and subjective.  If I'm planning ahead, three years from now is nearly a present danger.  If I don't plan ahead then three years from now is, well, three years from now.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

There's a Visa commercial in Hazel Park... somewhere

Well, we know how Hazel Park will try balancing its budget--it's charging $35 for copies of its 2010-2011 budget.  I half-expect mine to be mimeographed.  If they could just sell 25,713 more copies they might balance their 2011-2012 budget.

I wonder if they mail-order office supplies from Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop?

Meanwhile, Ferndale's 2010-2011 budget may be downloaded for free, without wasting gas on a trip to the clerk's office, without wasting paper, and without missing work.  Priceless---really!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Pump up the volume. Dance! Dance!

[Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2010 edition of Ferndale Friends]

NIMBY is an acronym for Not In My Back Yard.  It’s a term thrown around whenever a bunch of folks are in favor of a refinery, an incinerator, a jail, a half-way house, adult book store, or anything else many think is Good For The Community (GFTC – not an acronym) but they don’t want it near them.  It’s ok to be by someone else’s home, to increase someone else’s health risks, or increase traffic on someone else’s streets as long as it’s not our health, our safety, or our streets.

The current issue that has all the NIMBYs out in force is Ferndale’s noise ordinance.  A petition circulated this summer proposes to lower the nighttime volume from 65 to 60 decibels.  Not surprisingly, there are many that feel those five decibels would kill the downtown, drive away night-time revelers, shutter the bars, and return tumbleweeds to Nine Mile.

As much as Ferndale likes being like everyone else, I wonder how Ann Arbor manages to survive with its residential nighttime limits at 55 decibels.  Birmingham, East Lansing, and Kalamazoo are 60, 55, and 45 decibels respectively.

According to Ferndale reactionaries, these cities must be ghost towns.

At a city council meeting earlier this summer, council-woman Melanie Piana (or was it Kate Baker?) suggested Ferndale consider New Jersey’s “model” sound ordinance.  I doubt either of them actually read it as it recommends a residential night-time limit of 50 decibels.

In Detroit, amplifiers aren’t even allowed to be used if they’re within 250 feet of a residential area.  I don’t think anyone enforces that, but this summer Mt. Clemens’ new noise ordinance ordains that any downtown sound that can be heard 500 feet away is too loud.

Heck, according to other cities’ standards, at 60 decibels petition organizer Sherry Wells is a partying sorority chick gone wild.  Reserve your “The Girls of Troy St.” calendar at a Ferndale retailer near you!

So, before everyone shouts-down the residents on Troy asking for a little consideration, remember they aren’t nearly is prudish as the folks in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Kalamazoo, or San Francisco (45 dBA measured inside the house).

At their September 27th meeting, city council directed the DDA director and city manager to retain a sound engineer (spend money) to develop guidelines (spend time) for a non-sound-pressure-based measurement (spend credibility).  I humbly submit the research provided above for free, printed in a free magazine, dropped on your porch every-other-month for free.

It’s just my little contribution to help Ferndale balance its budget.

It’s always darkest just before it goes pitch-black

Speaking of balancing the budget, if you haven’t visited, you should check it out.  If you’re sick of reading all those motivation posters hanging in the hallways at the office, this is the website for you.  My favorite is named, Mistakes.  It’s a picture of a sinking ship in the middle of a tranquil sea.  You’ll have to read the caption for yourself when you visit the website.

Anyway, on September 13th, council appointed 12 residents to accomplish in 55 days what council couldn’t accomplish in 163 days—fill a three-year budget deficit of approximately $12 million with expense reductions and tax increases.  Believe it or not, the 12 people selected were among 29 that volunteered for the job (including yours truly).

One of my favorites was Melanie Piana’s nomination of a guy she admitted she didn’t know, hadn’t met, but heard was “a nice guy.”  With keen and penetrating rationale like that I wouldn’t trust her recommending a hair dresser much less someone with influence to cut city services and raise property taxes.

Heck, with those qualifications she may as well have nominated Ashton Kutcher.  I suspect they haven’t met either and he seemed a nice-enough-guy on That 70’s Show and the Nikon camera commercials (at least until rumors of his pulling a Tiger-Woods on Demi More).

To bring everyone up-to-date, the Financial Planning Committee has met three times.  The first was a get-to-know-you meeting with a few people declaring the DDA and Kulick Center off-limits (out-of-the-box-thinking).  The second was elections of a chair, vice-chair, and secretary (Bob Porter, Joel Petrie, and Bob Bruner respectively), followed by 100-level Municipal Accounting primer given by the city manager to catch everyone up on the definitions of fund, expense, income, and statutory.  I don’t remember if he covered the words discretionary, frivolous, indulgent, and reckless, or if he’ll just show video of the July 26 council meeting when they approved spending $447,930 for a $21,500 chair lift while staring down a $3 million deficit in next year’s budget.

Conformity is its own reward

On this November’s ballot Ferndale citizens will vote on whether our police and fire chiefs should report to the city council as they have since the city’s beginning, or report to the city manager.  After council attempted to make this change without residents’ input a petition forced the issue to the ballot, hoping that by election-day city council will have provided some justification for why both chiefs’ visibility and independence should be eliminated.

Residents have been waiting since mid-summer for council to explain themselves.  If the new arrangement is as efficient as they claim it should be easy to back up with numbers rather than anecdotes (“other cities do it”), whining (“they’re making fun of me”), or hissy fits (Galloway’s wanting police and fire personnel to account for their time in 15-minute increments).

If city council can’t explain their actions other than to say others are doing it, then we don’t need our city council.  Instead, Ferndale can just imitate Madison Heights’ charter and ordinances, or Royal Oak’s, or maybe Ann Arbors—then we can resolve the who-reports-to-the-city-manager, medical marijuana, and implement a 55 decibel residential noise limit from 10PM-7AM and free-up two Monday evenings a month.

So until that time comes, residents should vote NO.